Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Blooming 'eck

Management is hard

Getting the balance between being in control and letting your charges express themselves is a trick that even the best managers find stressful

Take too much control and things can start to go wrong. Slowly at first but eventually overtime to an unnatural position where pent up feelings can be unleashed. Things happening without explanation, and before you know it the world isn't behaving as you want it to.

On the flip side, delegate everything and who know what will happen. Chaos as everyday boundaries vanish and things go off in all sorts of directions like fireworks accidentally going off at once.

The results can be spectacular... (click me)

So let me ask you, what type of gardener are you? The one that has to have everything in a neat row, marked out according to plan. Perfectly trimmed borders? Or do you live and let live, trust the garden to decide what's best?

I reckon I have a foot in both camps. In my mind a wonderfully ordered world, but in reality? Well, you've seen the pictures. Sometimes though, you think 'yes, I can trust this plant to get on with itself. It's grown up enough to know what to do. A bit of help every now and again but it'll never let me down.

In my case this plant is my rose. A present from my mum 2 years ago, it has given me two years of cracking creamy white roses.

Prolific in bloom, it is a rare flower in an otherwise edible garden. The mild winter caused a bit of a stir with some early blooms just after Christmas but in a moment of ' I'm sure I didn't ask you to do that, but blooming 'eck, well done you...

...it flowered pink! Sometimes the things you look after can surprise you.

Now, is this because I managed it well and let it do its own thing?

Or is it just a freak?

PS - forgive all this management talk, I've been interviewing all week, I need to get out a lot more!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A divine comedy

There's something in this wood shed. Well, a story at least. Indeed, a rather funny story. Ask yourself, is this public footpath a normal place to put a shed?

My work colleagues Simon and Andy are men. It's a well known fact that men love sheds. Men also come pre-programmed with a gene best known as the 'don't worry I know how to handle this' gene. Most of us men learn in time to allow this gene off the leash only when we really do know how to handle something.

This little tale is a true story about what happens when men fail to control their ' I know how to handle this gene'. Let the story begin...
One sunny winter's morning, a young lad named Simon was merrily skipping to the allotment. Not far behind was his friend Andy, who simply couldn't wait to get mucky with Simon.

As they grabbed each others' tools, a cry came from the head of the allotment committee, "gentleman, would you be interested in a shed for your new plot, I have one that is causing quite a bother?" "Only too obliged," chirped Simon, for he was very polite.

So Simon and Andy made their way over to the shed. They passed through a gate, by the only house on the allotment, down a footpath, across the mud and into a clearing whereby a shed lay. "Why this is perfect," cried Simon. "With a few extra hands we'll move this in no time." "Splendid," proclaimed the head of the allotment committee " why don't you boys join me for a drink this evening at the allotment committee party?" Simon agreed. Andy was secretly happy, for he had not been to a party all week.

Just then, Andy's wife Emma turned up with two friends. "Would you mind helping us move this shed?" asked Simon. The girls agreed, for he asked very politely. "But how are we ever going to move something so big," said Emma, somewhat concerned.

"Don't worry," replied Simon, "I know how to handle this..."

"First we need to take all the tools out of the shed and move them to the new plot." They did this with a wheelbarrow through the mud. All in all it took an hour, and they sat down for a cup of tea. "Now," instructed Simon, "the shed will be light enough to lift and move in one piece." Everyone clapped, for this really was a clever idea.

And so, Simon, Andy, Emma and her two friends bent their knees, shouted 'heave' and up came the shed, without so much as a creak.  "This will be quick" exclaimed Andy, whose already hungry mind was on his neighbour's juicy plums. For they had the most wonderful plum tree on the corner of their allotment.

They managed to move the shed onto the path with no trouble at all. The path was shielded by hedges and much to the amusement of other gardeners it appeared as though the shed was floating through the air!

It was at this point that Emma started to look concerned. To her it seemed the path was getting narrower. But she thought, 'it's ok, Simon said he knows how to handle this'. Then, brambles started to brush her back and she wondered again 'is there space'. But the boys were still smiling, yes, it was ok, men do smile when they know how to handle things.

Suddenly there was a rustling from above, and a scraping. "Oh no, we've hit a tree" And then a sharp cry 'ouch'. It was one of Emma's friends. Stuck against the fence. And the shed was stuck too, trapped by the branches above.

'Oh whatever are we to do' proclaimed Emma's second friend. "Don't worry," said Andy, "I know how to handle this. We'll just edge backwards and then we can think about what to do." But the shed wouldn't move. It was truly jammed, as if someone had put glue on the roof to which the branches had stuck.

"Maybe," wondered Simon, aloud "we could get some more help to move the shed backwards, and then we can take it apart and do the last bit in pieces?" Just then Mr Postman came up the path with his urgent delivery of letters.

Simon greeted the postman, for he was very polite. "Good afternoon Mr Postman," Indeed it was now the afternoon and the postman was running late. "I'm awfully sorry but I must get past to deliver my letters. "I'm very sorry Mr Postman," said Simon, "perhaps you could help us move this shed? "I will gladly do so,  replied Mr Postman "but I think we may need some more hands."

Just then, Mrs Mummy and her friend Mrs Yummymummy came rushing up the path with their pushchairs. They too were in a hurry to pick up their older children from a party. "Good afternoon Mrs Mummy and Mrs Yummymummy," said Simon, for he was very polite, and I suspect he also fancied Mrs Yummymummy.

"Oh dear," cried the two mummies, although I imagine they wished to say something rather more grown up. "How are we to get past?" "Don't worry," said Simon, " I know how to handle this. Andy can climb into the garden on the other side of the fence and you can pass your babies over the fence. Then climb over the fence yourselves, walk around the shed and climb back over. We'll carry the pushchairs over for you because we're gentlemen too."

And so, after much lifting and climbing, the mummies were on the way, but the shed was still stuck.

Just then the head of the allotment committee came wandering past. "Oh dear," he cried, although I imagine he wished to say something rather more grown up too. Simon asked very politely "Mr Allotment Head, would you be so kind as to help us move the shed back?" "Yes, I shall, but you shall have to take the shed back to where it came from as it's getting dark and I have a party to start.

And so Simon and Andy, Emma and her two friends, Mr Postman and Mr Allotment Head managed to free the shed from the branches. And with that, the shed floated back above the hedges, through the mud and down in the clearing where it began the day. Everyone was exhausted, when finally Andy said to Simon, "we've got that party tonight, how on earth are we going to enjoy it with everyone laughing at us?" And this time, Simon said

"I really don't know how I'll handle that"


You may wish to know that the next day Simon and Emma managed to take the shed apart and rebuild it by their plot. It turned out that the shed wouldn't have fitted through the gate in any case. Thank you Andy and Simon for such a gem of a story, I hope I've done it proud and not embarrassed you guys too much! To say thank you, here's a tenuously linked song, the moral of which is also 'stay away from sheds'!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Guest post: Hope (by Michael Baker)

A gardenless gardener
Young adulthood. It’s a cacophony of highs and lows, triumphs and failures, anticipation and trepidation, as my future seems to rest on every action and reaction. Sound familiar gardeners? I share your pain.

One thing that youth and economics hasn’t so far provided me with is the sanctuary of defensible green space; so I get a glimpse of what I may have one day through the tales of Tom’s blog, hear about the trials of nature on Gardeners Question Time, and steal wistful moments with the keepers of the allotments behind my friends house. 

But my flatmates and I share a weekly joy that must be akin to what you gardeners feel when your sprouts are a sprouting, carrots are a carroting and Swedes a sweding...our organic veg box from NEOG (North East Organic Growers). It is our window on to the wonderful world of muddy, knobbly, misshapen, organic veg that garden dwellers are aspiring to every day, and I want to tell you of the joy it brought me on one fateful winter’s eve.

It is January, and we are in Britain; gardeners know of the anxious state this brings as every chilly eve brings the threat of frost and at any moment we could be cast into the darkness of a 2010 style freeze (I still remember the shock I felt when I discovered my parents Yuka had been claimed...goodbye old friend). Now walk in my shoes and bask for a moment when you realise that you have no garden to guard (I will allow you that) but this comes at a great cost; 15,000 words to write in three weeks! My career dependent on my performance! Graduate scheme applications! The highest youth unemployment rate in 20 years! Cuts, cuts and cuts! Euro-crisis! No job! No money! No hope! And worse...no garden! 

In the midst of the crushing pressure felt most acutely in this awful month, I was walking home from another 10 hour session in the library when I remembered that today was Thursday and there was a glimmer of hope due to be collected from a kind old ladies house round the corner – our veg box. Joy and perspective rushed over me in the knowledge that soon I would hold in my hands that scintillating smell of earthy dampness, the mystery of today’s contents would entice me as I carried it home and when I got there I would spill it onto the side and leaf excitedly through its contents.

When I got home, what did I find? Buxom beetroots, pert potatoes, lovely leeks and a host of other goodies, all ready to be peeled and chopped and souped and stewed. I began, and all worry washed away with the sticky mud down the sink, and in the meditation of preparation I realised that nothing else matters in this cruel world so long as I have nature to nourish me. So sayonara stress! Aurevoir applications! Goodbye deadlines! I have a leek and potato soup to make, with enough butter to make a GP wince and enough garlic to ensure my singleton status for at least a week. In small moments, veg perfect be.  

Michael was bold, brash even. Not one to wait for an invitation, he sent me this message, along with a fully formed post:

Hi Tom,
Hope your well! I was inspired by your plea for blog posts, and though I don't have a garden wanted to write something about my veg box, which really cheered me up one particularly depressing day. Feel free to edit it (in fact it'll feel weird if you don't!) and i don't know if its what your looking for for the blog, but I hope you and your readers enjoy it if it goes up!
All the best,

And within days he was up here displaying his wares to all. You too can be part of this emotional celebration and find out just how much fun it can be to bare all - who needs Gok Wan when you've got Hapless eh?

Email or tweet me Thehaplessgardener@gmail.com / @haplessgardener

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Robin hoodie - a poem

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting the very talented poet Nikki Grant. Her work, both written and spoken brings to life the crazy world of slugs and bats in a way that had me laughing out loud. She does of course write about other things. She has since explained with some passion the approach poets take to their craft and it has inspired me to have a crack at it.

Now, this could be a bit like an elephant attempting a bit of ballroom, all clunky with lots of flapping and putting important things in the wrong places. But I'm going to attempt it nonetheless.

Do leave comments below if you like it / have some poetry nous to share


Robin, Robin Hoodie
Much misunderstoodie

Deprived of your space
You hide
In the shade, hopping from shadow to shadow.

It's a world dominated.
By the large, the loud, the brash and proud -

Crows on the table, gulls in the sky, why, 
Even the pigeons are street

We loved you when you first came into our world. Christmas is really for you.
But now, now we don't see you, or know where you are -

When you'll be back?

Perhaps it was love? Not enough or too much? Affection? Is that what you need?

A hug?
Oh Robin, Robin hoodie. Much, much misunderstoodie

Friday, 20 January 2012

Guest post: Awe - by Sylvia Hawkes


Having spent 10 years transforming my garden in England, from totally overgrown to a slightly wild and jungly garden, which I loved, I was really excited about the prospect of gardening in Andalucia, when I moved here 3 years ago. Imagining a perfect warm sunny climate where all sorts of exotic plants would be really easy to grow.

Once the renovations of the farmhouse I had purchased with my partner had been completed, my thoughts turned to the garden. 

The house is built on a large plot with about 60 olive trees and a separate fenced south facing area which slopes away from the house. The fenced area which I refer to as the garden, was totally overgrown and neglected. In my dreams I imagined a fabulous garden full of exotic plant species.

I was soon brought down to earth when I discovered that the climate here varies enormously. In the summer the temperature generally averages around 40c but can go up to 50c and is generally a everyday heat.  Which is often accompanied by Strong winds which start without warning, sometimes lasting for only an hour, but it feels like standing in front of a giant hairdryer!

Rain is rare in the summer months, however when it does rain it is more like a monsoon. Autumn and spring are generally very mild, but the temperature can drop from 30c  one day to 10c or less the next.  Winter again is pretty unpredictable, at night it can drop well below freezing I've seen it as low as minus 17c, then by the middle of the day it can be warm and sunny again.

When I moved here there had been no rain for 7 months, since then I have witnessed one winter and one spring, that were so wet the local spanish people say they haven't seen so much rain in 50 years.

The challenge has been finding plants that can tolerate these extremes, having lost plants to the hot winds that literally scorch leaves, lack of water in the summer and to much at other times. The soil is mainly clay so when wet it becomes horribly claggy and if dry like concrete and impossible to dig. It has been much more difficult than I imagined, but gradually it is starting to look like a garden, in which I come to realise it is best to work with nature so am keeping it semi-wild.

I am constantly filled with awe at the way nature adapts to these extremes and constantly amazed by the plants that cope very well with little or no human intervention.

This area is covered in olive trees, which are rarely if ever given any additional water and yet year after year produce wonderful crops of olives. In the spring the area is covered in beautiful wild flowers, sometimes even in the hot dry summer months plants that look totally dead produce pretty flowers. In the garden the grapevines, pomegranate and mulberry produce masses of fruit, without being watered.

Although I am enjoying trying to transform my little patch of the Andalucian countryside, I don't think I will ever be able to compete with the way nature copes with the climate.


Sylvia's fab post and stunning photos form this blog's first guest post of 2012. However there are plenty more gardening emotions to be found hidden amongst my guest bed. Click here to discover the true feelings of other gardeners...

If you're interested in baring your emotional garden soul then feel free to get in touch Thehaplessgardener@gmail.com or @haplessgardener on Twitter

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Love the herb bug

The other night I was watching some River Cottage related programme about three hungry boys or something like that. Another day, another foodie show. 

However, as with all that Hugh and his mates seem to do, there is a combination of a challenge and a moral determination. This time round, it's to get from A in Somerset to B in Cornwall without so much as a penny or petrol. A converted milk float and a few supplies. But otherwise, it's fend for, and feed yourselves.

So far, so West Country.

But. Within minutes of setting off they go and raid Hugh's garden for essentials to feed them (see 6 minutes in). The things that will give them fuel, see them through the harsh conditions ahead. So what do they nick?

Oragano, sage and lemon thyme. 

I mean, come on. Seriously guys, where on this earth are those considered to be essential other than Hampstead? And lemon thyme? Not even normal thyme, you have to go for the fancy stuff. Sheesh.

Yet herbs have a hold on people and it's this hold that I want to explore as both a gardener and fledgling cook. So I've come up with a new challenge. To create the most abundant herb garden and start to see what impact it has on my everyday food. And I'd like some help too.

I've got a small legacy from previous owners/tenants. First of these is a bay tree, which despite regular use just grows like mad. I'm not complaining as I've come to love it.

I also have a small clump of chives. I've cut it right back because last year after it died off in the winter, brand new shoots were the first hint of spring growth. Vigourous and positive, I await this year's spring charge!

So for my challenge I've bought / still have some of the standard herbs but I'm also looking for the rare, the under-rated and the downright unfashionable. Tweet me, comment or email the one herb you think I should try to grow and cook.

As I grow I'll be asking my partner in cooking crime Ruth to give me recipes and tips on her blog yummymummycookingschool but don't let that stop you sending us your suggestions too.

For more, head over to my shockingly named About thyme page...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Ornamental Health (1)


Play with that word for a moment. 

Look at the letters. Awkward isn't it. Your eyes don’t know where to go. Up, around, back, down, a nauseating visual experience. 

Now say it, “cabbage”. Your mouth doesn't know whether to open or close and, gosh, you can almost smell your own bad breath.

Now picture it. Raw, a bowling ball that you aren’t going to risk your back for by transporting home from the grocer. Cooked, well it's just a slimy translucent green mess.

And what’s that? Your nose has disowned you?

My friend Sarah, of CSI Cymru fame, explained to me that her favourite flower is an ornamental cabbage. ‘You’re having a laugh’ I thought alongside visions of ceramic painted cabbages. ‘What on earth is an ornamental cabbage?’ I perhaps a little too scornfully enquired.

Well, apparently it's a cabbage that looks like a flower. Like this:

I'm stunned!

And then came the heart-breaking story. Sarah’s favourite florist told her that people come into the shop, are wowed by them but don’t buy them. Why? Oh yes, because it’s a cabbage. To me this is like a Yorkshireman turning down a date with a gorgeous Lancastrian simply because they are from the (alleged) wrong side of the Pennines.

And further, how many of us actually regularly eat cabbage? Further still, how many of us grow it?

Last month, I sought the help from friend and cook extraordinaire Ruth in order to feed my family at Christmas. Together we came up with a blog, so that she could help me learn and I could show her my efforts.

One of her first recipes was braised cabbage. Now, I confess I was like a sceptical Yorkshireman at first (I’ve done time in Sheffield, maybe it rubbed off – actually I loved Sheffield but that’s another story for another day)

If I tell you that the first scent that hit my parents on arriving on Christmas day was braised cabbage and they thought it wonderful, well that’s down to Ruth and my ability to follow a recipe.

Red cabbage is amazing. Stunning to look at, and with the right partners, care and attention so tasty. Hell, it’s the best bit of a kebab salad too.

So Ruth and I are going to work in partnership in aid of the cabbage and other vegetables. My hard work in the garden will be supported by her magic in the kitchen. To whet your appetite here's the link to her braised cabbage recipe and with more to follow

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Last of the Christmas sprouts

The garden equivalent of a spring clean happens now. 

No point waiting until the lambs are bounding in the fields, the eggs hatching in the nest and the clocks going forward. By that time, you'll need your hands free to be planting all those seeds that you bought in earnest last year, only used a few of and have had sitting on the shelf hoping that they're still good for the following year.

Besides, third on your list of new year's resolutions was 'keep on top of the garden'. 

Yes, third. Right behind 'keep on top of the house' and 'keep on top of the finances'. Also one ahead of 'get fit', which is now dropping down the list of resolutions because it is so passe. Anyway, rather than join the gym or hire a personal trainer it's much more fun to get fit by taking up an allotment, doing an active sport like climbing or having more sex. Sorry, and having more sex. This may be a gardening blog but I wouldn't want starting an allotment to ruin your sex life.

I digress, but for fear of a solitary life, I've not yet taken up an allotment. Instead I've been out there in my garden, still pruning, cutting and clearing. 

Today it was time to cut back the raspberries. I learnt last year that once raspberry stalks turn brown, after a year's fruiting, you have to not just behead them but cut them off at their ankles. 

It seems quite brutal. A waste of so much potential fruit. Surely there is some value in keeping the stalks say half way up? But no buds means no fruit, so off with their heads, shoulder knees and ankles.

Raspberries are the femme fatale of the fruit world so don't - as I did - feel bad for them. They seduce you to let them grow, and then they wrap themselves around the heart of your garden bed until they totally control it. They smother the space and light around, and it's not until you put them back in their rightful place that you suddenly realise what else has been hiding.

And in my case, raspberries had been supressing a line of garlic and a red onion. I was certain that the limited garlic and onion I planted last year had been harvested, but no. Treats revealed themselves as I cut back the tangled raspberry stalks. Clear ground has shown healthy sprouting and I'm truly stumped how this has come about.

Did I plant more than I realise? Do bulbs split underground? Are these the runts of the litter? Or is the mild weather allowing growing conditions where normally there would be no signs of vegetable life? I have no idea.

Once again, the garden has surprised me with its voracious ability to produce food for the table. Tonight, I feel a lucky lad.

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

My photo
I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.